You would have to go back 27 years, back when the Edmonton Oilers last won the Stanley Cup, to see one of the best surprise snipers in NHL history. In 1990 this player was Washington Capitals’ winger, John Druce. He went from being a fringe NHLer to scoring 14 ginos and 17 points in 15 NHL playoff games. Sadly he never developed into a consistent NHL scorer and the magic he briefly had, never showed itself again.
In the Oiler’s 2006 playoff run that clutch scorer was the legend of Castledowns, Fernando Pisani, who notched 14 goals (some crucial) and 4 assists in 24 playoff games.
Realistically, every NHL playoff year there is a player or two who rises from relative obscurity to playoff glory. And while it seems magical, it’s actually very practical. When things tighten up in the playoffs, the top six of each side often cancel each other out, leaving opportunities for third and fourth liners.
So the question is, are there any of those players currently on the Oilers, just waiting for their time to shine in playoffs? I would say there are more than a couple, but here are my top four.
Now a couple of things will need to happen for a player to emerge from darkhorse to thoroughbred, and most important is games played. On that note, I took a sip of the Kool-Aid, and liked the taste, so it says here, the Oilers will play in at least two series. That should be enough minutes for something special to happen. And the following are the most likely candidates.
Which One Will Emerge . . .
Zack Kassian: Because Kassian was a scorer in junior, and can play up and down the line-up, it’s not that far-fetched for the big guy to emerge as a surprise sniper. He’s had several goals reversed because of off-side challenges (in another time they would be goals). Watching him play he does a lot of things like a top-6 forward. He skates well, can make a pass, a play, can fill in on any line really, but his main role has been as an agitator/intimidator, and he does that very well. So much so, his production has been neglected. However he’s in the lineup every night, so the opportunity is there.
Anton Slepyshev: I’m reaching on this one because Shlepy struggled with consistency during the season, and isn’t a regular, but if there’s an injury in the top nine, or he gets hot, look out. Slepyshev may have the best wrist shot on the club, both hard and accurate, and he has the size and speed to get to the net. He’s proven to be a defensive liability which has kept him out of the lineup, but he has the tools to do the job.
Drake Caggiula: The Oilers top college FA signing has had an up and down year but has shown some glimpses of the scoring potential he showed in college. The experiment of putting the Drake at centre seems to have finished and Caggiula is settling in nicely on the wing. There would need to be an injury for a true opportunity, but he definitely is the most likely darkhorse candidate, that is if one emerges.
Iiro Pakarinen: Another stretch, at least as much as Shlepy, but Pakarinen has played this role before. During the Oiler’s previous farm team, the OKC Barons’ 2014 – 15 regular season, Iiro held a hot hand, sniping for 17 goals in 38 games. Pakarinen became such a proficient clutch goal scorer he earned the moniker “Iiro the Hero.” Pakarinen game has slowly come around in the last month and he seems to be gaining confidence. Could the hero return?
For the Oilers to Win They Need . . .
All season long the local and national hockey pundits took a worrisome look at how much scoring production fell on the shoulders of the McDavid line. Towards the end of the season, the resurgence of Eberle and the Nuge allowed most fans to breathe a sigh of relief. But for the team to get a bolt of unexpected scoring like Pisani did back in 2006, now that would be special.